The way the United States have fought in Libya is already proclaimed to be a “new American approach to war”, but that is premature. The way the American armed forces will focus their attention in the future, following the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is still up for discussion. The approach should rather be seen as an adaptation to an international and domestic situation in the United States which warranted a different American approach than what we have previously seen.
Qaddafi has been killed, the war is won. Or is it? We still don’t know.
Reading The New York Times article by Mark Landler and David Leonhardt, the war might not be over entirely, but it is still portrayed as a great victory for a “new American approach to war”, which through the use of “few if any troops on the ground, the heavy use of air power, including drones” , eliminates America’s enemies from afar, and at minimum expense for the United States.
But I would say, it is too early to proclaim the kind of commitment we saw from the United States in Libya, as a new approach to war.
It is still not clear what kind of warfare the United States military is going to pursue in the future after its long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As I see it, there are three tracks the American military can follow:
- Continuing the newly rediscovered counterinsurgency and big involvement track
- Follow the “few if any troops on the ground, the heavy use of air power, including drones” approach
- Revert back to its old traditional conventional approach, focusing on big-unit warfare
Which one of these tracks it is going to be, that is the interesting question for the future of the American military.
Continuing the focus on counterinsurgency is unlikely given the economic situation in the United States, and the stress the armed forces have been under in the last 10 years.
The question is then, is the United States going to continue fighting dictators and terrorists by using air power, and “lead from behind” as it was done in Libya, and with great success one might add. Does that not also present the risk of dragging the United States into situations like Iraq and Afghanistan once again, because American intervention becomes necessary for whatever reason? That might be the fear in the Pentagon, and because of that, the military might turn to the third track listed above, renewed focus on conventional big-unit warfare.
So to call the American commitment in Libya, the “new American approach to war”, might be stretching it. Rather it should be seen as an adaptation to the given situation. The American approach to Libya was facilitated by the situation both internationally and domestically in the United States. An international coalition arose to fight in Libya, a coalition willing to take the lead from the United States, which might have helped the “lead from behind” scenario take place, as well as an economic situation in the United States, which could not bear a large scale commitment in Libya.
These factors are what lead to the way the United States has acted in Libya, rather than it being a “new approach to war”, because we really do not know, yet, how the American military is going to focus its attention in the future. That is still up for debate…